Tuesday, April 17, 2018

April Revisited

It's hard to believe another April is quickly rolling to a close, which means I survived another year without my little Romo and managed to avoid another bout of meningitis, which will probably be the norm from here on out, as it's pretty much unheard of for anyone, especially an older individual, to be struck by that kind of illness three times in a lifetime. Compared to the last few months, April seems to be moving along more smoothly.

While I'm not 100 percent injury free, I'm able to put in some solid running and even ran a strong tempo run recently at the CU cross country course in 28:35, not a fast time but a decent one, all things considered. For the first time in a very long time, I didn't feel in over my head on the second lap and ran it with a dose of good sense. I've had a bit of a rough time recovering, but I'm trying to be smart about resting, too. I'm forever battling fears and worries, but I do my best to get out and run anyway.

Despite a bad endometriosis flare-up, a small skin basal cell carcinoma removal, a terrible bout of depression, and a missing IUD that was later found slightly embedded in and later removed from my tilted uterus, things are OK. A few of these issues still need to be addressed, but I'm taking everything as it comes. My job is still going well, and I'm surprisingly optimistic about possibilities in at least some areas of my life.

Obviously, there's not a lot to report here, but I'm trying to be better about noting any improvements, no matter how small. After dealing with a nagging and painful injury over the winter, being able to run at all at this point feels good. I have a long, long way to go before I try jogging with other people, but at least I'm getting outside now and then.


Friday, April 13, 2018

Well, That's Disappointing

I understand more fully why people in the recovery community are upset with Geneen Roth. I was disappointed to find out that she will be participating in some sort of feel-good summit this summer. There are several keynote speakers that, on the surface, look like they have some decent credentials. The problem with this particular event is that it looks more like a good old-fashioned weight-loss camp than anything promoting actual wellness. The website is filled with all kinds of trendy catchphrases that are sure to intrigue you, and right before the claim that it will be a judgment-free zone, there's a nice little bit of bullshit about willpower, more specifically your lack of it that keeps you from experiencing life at its best.

Mark Hyman, who boasts about his ties to Dr. Oz, among many things, leads the Feel Good Summit and offers a "clean food" designer meal plan (red flag) for those attending. Right away, this doesn't sound like an individualized program that takes into consideration people's food preferences or actual needs, and it doesn't sound like the method Geneen Roth previously used and promoted as a way to break free from compulsive eating, quite the opposite, in fact. No diet plan can be predesigned for anyone. Every day, your nutritional needs change, and, more importantly, what you or your body craves does too. If you're given a meal plan designed by someone who doesn't know you or your history, a plan that's exactly like everyone else's, how likely are you to continue eating that way once you're not in a camp-like setting? How restrictive is that plan? How much freedom are you getting through controlling portions and types of food, eliminating "junk" food and opting for "clean" foods instead?

This guy states outright that you shouldn't ANY crap. Is that realistic? He insists that if you eat crap, you will feel like crap. Is that accurate for you? It's not for me. I often eat some cookies or chocolate or french fries and feel physically and emotionally good later. Clean food. Shit, dust off a twinkie and eat it if you want and need. Fuck clean eating. It's such bullshit, a marketing tool and nothing more. A healthy diet can include what you want it to. Yes, nutrient-dense foods will give your body a good dose of what it probably needs, but what about enjoying life and feeling good about your choices, even if you choose to eat a bowl of ice cream?

There's a lot of talk about feeding or nourishing yourself so that you can be the best version of yourself possible, or something along those lines, but promoting wellness can be done without frowning upon those who don't follow a clean-eating plan. Overall health is not about skipping dessert. If you haven't figured it out by now, this kind of retreat is a great way for anyone there to sell you their product, a new book, a diet plan, a wellness program, therapy sessions, or one-on-one consultations. They want you to believe that they have the answers and experience profound energy, happiness, and wellness on a daily basis. Oh, one or two will admit they aren't perfect, but the overall message is that you can be as socially accepted as they are, and all you have to do is pay a bunch of money and eat and exercise the way someone else suggests.

Nobody trying to help others lead a healthier life should be promoting the idea that any food is bad or dirty or sinful. Everyone has the right to eat what fuels their body, mind, and soul. Yes, good nutrition usually does help you feel good, but nobody else can define what healthy means for you. The problem with these kinds of restrictive and measured diet plans is that they don't teach awareness. The focus is on eating certain types of foods and avoiding others instead of trusting yourself in your choices and being able to weather whatever emotions and fears come up after you have eaten.

The whole thing seems a little too controlled, but the magic is supposed to happen in three days at the cost of $2,500+, the amount and time it takes to completely transform your life. These kinds of retreats are designed to target people who probably need something deeper, not a weight-loss or "feel-good" plan. Of course, the advertisements aren't addressing weight-loss per se, but there are subtle and not so subtle clues that are obvious to anyone looking. Plus, Mr. Hyman likes to bring the conversation, no matter what's being discussed, back to diet. That's what he's selling, all his fad-diet books including those on detox diets, eating fat and getting thin, and the ultra this and ultra that diets. His speakers promote the bulletproof diet, the archetype diet, genius foods (foods that make you smarter AND happier), and one that suggests you can eat your way to better health. I won't go into the one author who, if you buy her book, wants to tell you how to make every man want you. Is anyone else feeling queasy yet?

Years ago, a friend of mine went to something similar. She was always on a quest to improve her life and lose weight when she didn't really need to, so she signed up for a three-week raw foods retreat. She left a strong, healthy individual and returned looking dangerously thin and so weak that she could no longer run with me and couldn't even complete the hike we did as a substitute for running one day. She insisted she felt great, but she didn't look or act like a specimen of health. I was concerned and let her know. She eventually gained back the weight she lost plus a few extra pounds that she complained about but looked just fine on her body. She was also back to being healthy and able to exercise again.

When I look at retreats and seminars like the Feel Good Seminar, I can't explain all the reasons why they make me cringe. There are so many. I get a physical reaction to all the bullshit they're trying to spread. There's always an air of fat phobia and not a lot of diversity with the presenters, all lean, smiling citizens with extra white teeth and abnormally wide eyes.

I'm sure some people benefit from retreats. If you happen to be looking for more positive ways to spend time away from home, try Women's Quest. Colleen runs programs that are designed to actually support you, not sell you gimmicks.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Same As It Ever Was II

I'm lucky that my job doesn't require me to stand out on social media. Basically, if I aim to do my best in terms of being honest, kind, helpful, and knowledgeable, it usually translates into doing well at work. When I look at how people who rely more heavily on being in the public eye behave, it makes me realize how far we as a society have to go in order to even begin to change the unhealthy but terribly ingrained habits that form the often dangerous beauty standards we constantly see. Most of us are still so very unaware how we contribute to cultural assumptions and norms.

I was late seeing some of the more bizarre takes on the "if you don't love me at my XXX, you don't deserve me at my XXX" meme phenomenon that's occurring on Twitter at the moment. The original quote is: “I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.” - Anonymous. People initially made some cute or funny memes based on this, but, as they often do, those who crave the spotlight had to join in because everyone else was doing it. Then, all of a sudden, too many people took the opportunity to draw attention to bodies, women's bodies in particular, showing one supposedly less satisfactory image and one glammed up image side-by-side. It didn't take long for pretty much everyone to jump on board with their versions of worst and best, and I noticed a large number of people simply posting images of themselves at a higher weight or slightly less toned contrasted with a more socially accepted image.

My tipping point and why I wrote this post rather than engage with anyone on a social media platform was when someone who has been interviewed as an eating disorder recovery advocate and partnered with an expert to teach a virtual class on body image in 2017, presented an older image of herself shortly after having a baby but still in shape enough to be engaging in a high-intensity sport next to an image of herself looking extremely fit in a fashion show for a women's athletic apparel company. Since a few people already said what I was thinking, there was no need to beat a dead horse and get involved in any direct conversations. It was surprising that she posted something like this, and there was a lot of explaining afterward about how it's really a good thing, somehow aimed at progress, which I fail to see given the meme movement and the images themselves. When a few people called her out on what appeared to many as an odd way to support body positivity, what followed from both her and the clothing company was more than a little concerning. I couldn't help but have a reaction, one that I felt deserved a more measured response on my blog.

Before I even get into what was tweeted, let me remind everyone that it's widely accepted and has been for years that there's a strong correlation between social media and body image concerns. We already know the line between fitspiration and thinspiration is a slim and often blurred one, and the content of the two is often indistinguishable. I'm not going to get into how common it is for images to be stolen and use as pro-ana content. That's a separate issue, but it happens and is one more reason people should be more concerned about the types of images they post. Teens and young adults are especially vulnerable when it comes to being influenced by the messages and images found on social media, but it's not limited to women and girls. Boys and men are also affected, as are people in the LGBTQ community.

Blasting others with images of your body in such a way that draws disproportionate attention to the body itself will always have the potential to negatively affect those who are prone to compare themselves to others and seek approval through their weight, size, or fitness level. This kind of image with a strong emphasis on looks is obviously different from an image of someone simply engaging in a certain activity or enjoying a moment in front of the camera. In the case of the former, excessively promoting images that fit into the narrow definition of our society's warped definition of beauty is likely to negatively influence some, and contrasting two images that focus entirely on the body is certain to cause at least a few people to engage in unhealthy comparisons.

Most individuals post images on social media without thinking about the potential damage they can cause. What's surprising is how many individuals are unaware and uncaring in this area. Can we please just stop it and shift the focus away from women's bodies, period? We don't need new and different ways of looking at the aesthetics of a woman's body. This isn't helpful in the long run because the focus is still on looks rather than wellbeing, health, or anything deeper. Why must everything come back to this?

I know this seems like an impossible task. Everyone has rights and wants and needs, and many people want to get some validation through the images they post. The argument is that everyone wants to look good and be their best versions of themselves, Oprah style, which is all fine; just stop shoving your body parts, toned or not, in our faces and intentionally drawing attention to them at the expense of real content. Nobody should be supporting or encouraging people who post memes and images that very clearly send potentially harmful messages, even if the intentions of the poster are... the best. I'm sure some people will misinterpret what I'm saying and think, incorrectly, that I'm for a world with no images of bodies at all be it in fashion, athletics, or in general. That's not what I'm saying. If you feel that posting images of yourself somehow betters the world, by all means, post away. All I'm doing is presenting another side.

Let me spare you more ruminations and just post some of the thread responses along with my thoughts in red.


Q1: Why is her natural post-partum body at her worst?

(Exactly what I was thinking. Shouldn't this be a highlight in life, especially if you have a child and are able to return to the activities you love?)

 A: Our interpretation of the meme was not that the first image equals worse but more what is real - and not traditionally shared (as LF’s original blog points out). Either way, thank you for the comment.

(Despite the original quote very clearly stating "worst/best," we are somehow supposed to magically know by looking at the images that the OP had a different interpretation. In addition, aren't we the fools for not having read every single word of the OP's blog, especially posts dating back to 2013 and 2014. Shame on us, but since it has been brought to your attention that it's unlikely that anyone would take the images in the way they were supposedly intended, what now?) 


Q2: I think this trend should just be "if you don't love me at my XXX...you don't deserve me." The implication of "non-ideal" photos/bodies as "worst" & "beautiful" photos/bodies as "best" is not a healthy subtext


(This is one of the best responses I have seen. Yes, it's not healthy. I wish more people would understand this.) 

OP: I see it as a powerful way to say “take all of me or have none of me.” I think it subverts rather than endorses simply by encouraging the posting of a range of images as lovable. To each her own!


(OK, fair enough, but what about the message the images send without the added explanation? How many people are going to look at the images and then take the time to read all the responses to get to this explanation?)

Q3: "So let's review this," he said, incredulous. "Oiselle uses strategic lighting and angles so that its athletes look maximally lean and ripped for its ads, and now it's imploring its own target audience to be real about women's bodies."

 Q3: "I really think you should replace your entire marketing department," he said with unconcealed scorn. "I thought the 'Drink Responsibly' crap from booze-peddlers was patently hypocritical, but this is several levels worse."

 OP: For the record, both are my actual body :). And it is worth pointing out that the meme never says “worst” or “best” in reference to the images. Could be “candid” or “posed,” or any number of things. It’s telling that many assume “worst/best!

(Again, the original quote specifically states this, and the answer below couldn't be better, right down to the third-person panache.) 

 Q3: "I didn't assume anything!" he thundered. "But only a fool could fail to note what's implied by this juxtaposition. Oiselle is like virtually every other women's active-wear company in trying to have it both ways. It's as simple as that."

 Q4: Have you looked at their advertising lately? Oiselle makes it a point to have models of various shapes and sizes and clothing to fit them. Maybe you should become informed before you speak.

 Q3: "Well, isn't that sweet!" he trilled. "But the use of bigger models elsewhere has nothing to do with THIS post, which implies that it's OK to look 'normal' IF 'normal' is a temporary condition. I 'get' the intent, but trust me, it backfires."

I don't claim to have all the answers. Free speech includes freedom of expression, and anyone who wants can flaunt her body in any way she sees fit. I just wish more people would consider how easy it is to reinforce unhealthy or unrealistic standards of health, fitness, and beauty when the online audience is so vast. My concern is that if those who consider themselves knowledgeable about eating disorders are unaware of how potentially damaging certain kinds of memes and images can be, you can imagine how little is known about the toxic side of social media in the general public. Given this, it's likely we are going to see more and more people developing eating disorders. And that's why this kind of trend is so upsetting.

Few people take the time to consider the impact the images they post can have. Images send a message in an instant. You don't always have the luxury of looking away before an image pops up in your feed, and whatever message comes from it is internalized quickly. With some posters -- and I'm not suggesting this is the case with this particular situation but I'm sure it happens a lot -- as long as they're getting whatever benefit posting brings them, and as long as they get those reinforcing "likes," it's doubtful anything will change any time soon. One can hope, though. Damn, one can hope.


Saturday, March 24, 2018

That Wild Spring Hair

It seems every year around this time, whether I'm fit or not, I get the wild idea that I want, no need, to do some sort of time trial. Today was definitely not the ideal day for it, but I had already set my mind to doing something, sensible ideas be damned.

I looked back and saw that last year at this time I was excited after running 20:25 or so on my little NCAR road jaunt. Today was not a day for miracles. In addition to the ever-present slight headwind on that road, I had a few mental, physical, and hormonal issues to manage. Also, in case anyone was wondering, swallowing the wrong way while trying to inhale doesn't make a person run faster. Instead of inching closer to that 20-minute barrier, I swung the opposite direction and landed at my finishing point in 20:52, which isn't horrible but shows what a difference fresh legs and a good attitude can make when it comes to going after running goals.

Given today's not so stellar performance, I'm still trying to figure out how a nice, relaxed tempo run on the trails a few weeks ago earned me my fastest time ever, by about three minutes, on one of my favorite little loops up to the Mesa Trail. Considering I was a minute slower to the base of the trail than I was on my fastest day previously, it's hard to figure out how I managed the speedier time. I wondered if my watch was broken, but everything was in working order. I guess not being all that fit leads to unpredictable training and times, but at least I'm running or jogging anyway. I can't say I'm injury free, but I'm not hurting as badly as I was a few months ago. I guess that's some kind of improvement.

I've been trying to think of a way to address pain and pain management. It's going to take some additional thought before I can put everything into words, but I suspect one of my next posts will address this topic. 



Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Please Stop It - A Message To Men

The other day, a friend pointed me to a blog post written by a runner who probably thinks he's smarter and funnier than he actually is. The post, not an article as he mistakenly called it, was about Desi Linden and was written in 2017. In it, the author claims that his readers might have a hard time finding articles about Linden because she's not pretty. That was one of may idiotic statements, but I'm primarily addressing this one since I would likely be here for days if I attempted to get into all the bizarre shit this guy claims throughout his blog. He goes on to explain in his post that he's not really the asshole he's presenting himself to be because he just means she's not as pretty as the truly pretty runners who get more press.

OK. Define "more press" and "pretty." Fortunately, Desi's sponsors don't give a fuck that she's not posing for Vogue in her spare time. They are more concerned and impressed with how well she runs. This guy clearly needs glasses and also needs someone to do a little research for him before he runs off with a whole lot of nonsense in his blogging attempts again.

Sports Illustrated featured Desi Linden in one of their 2016 editions, and an ESPN publication also did at least two write-ups on Desi prior to 2017. Runner's World wrote at least six main articles on her in 2016 alone, and there were well over ten feature articles in a span of two years from 2015 to 2016. That's not including any podcasts, Youtube videos, minor articles, or blog posts related to the magazine. From 2014 to 2016, Competitor wrote several articles on her in both their women's edition magazine and their regular magazine. She has her own Wikipedia page, and she wasn't absent from media outlets such as FloTrack, Salty Running, Adventure Sports Network, and even Bon Appetite, to name just a few, prior to this ridiculous blog post coming out.

Does it seem to you that Desi was an unknown in the running world in 2017? Obviously, she wasn't to even those who don't necessarily follow running all that much. I stopped following running for a long time and purposely avoided looking too closely at results and articles, yet I couldn't help but  notice such an outstanding runner. You almost can't avoid hearing about talent and dedication like hers. You would have had to really go a hell of a long way out of your way to avoid bumping into some news about her many running achievements.

None of this matters, really. People lie all the time online. They say stupid shit to try to come off as funny or informed, or they say something untrue to support their odd beliefs. It's bad enough that the blogger lied about a lack of media presence of an incredible athlete, but then he had to take it one step further and objectify not just Desi but all women runners, as if we really give a shit about his subjective grading scale of prettiness in female athletes. We don't. Stop it.

Every time twits like this try to draw attention to the outer appearance of an athlete, they immediately take away from and diminish the competitor's accomplishments. It's an intentional distraction, a way to keep the focus on women's bodies and away from their strengths. I have no idea why people, men especially, feel the need to do this other than possibly because they are insecure, terribly and hopelessly insecure.

It's fine if you have thoughts about someone's appearance. We all do, but most of us are well behaved enough and have enough respect to keep those thoughts to ourselves and not assume that everyone else has the same preference. Talk about a runner being pretty or not has no place in the athletic world. All it does is promote absurd standards that make it difficult for anyone to navigate a world obsessed with looks. We need to stop sending the message that women are never good enough if they aren't also good looking. It's bullshit, complete bullshit.
Related image
The look of an amazing athlete.




Related image
Desi at her wedding looking quite beautiful.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Intuitive Eating and Other Buzz Words

In my book, "Training on Empty," I mention intuitive eating, not in those exact words, but I address how difficult always tapping into our nutritional and dietary needs would be in the chaotic world in which we live. The idea behind intuitive eating is that our bodies have the wisdom to know what and how much we need, not just want, at any given moment. I don't believe it's possible or even necessary to be that grounded and in touch with your body and inner voice in order to recover, and I believe very few people who are normal and healthy do this 100 percent of the time. In fact, believing this is the answer to recovery can get people into trouble because our bodies aren't always 100 percent reliable when it comes to hunger cues, let alone signaling complete nutritional needs.

In saying this, however, I don't want to discourage anyone from being in touch with his or her internal signals. I'm all for giving yourself permission to eat what you want. I'm sure some will argue that they do fine eating intuitively, and I'm OK with that. It's great. I've always encouraged people to do what works for them. I'm just throwing out a word of caution for those who are in recovery to be aware of how difficult tossing out all dietary guidelines except your body's prompts can be. It's my strong opinion that using both intuitive eating along with some kind of relaxed meal plan is the best approach, especially for those taking their first steps toward recovery.

Once you're more solidly recovered, you have every right to choose what style of eating best serves you. Until then, it might take some work in order to understand and gather enough information to fully read what your body is telling you. Even then, I'm not entirely convinced that people can completely separate physical hunger cues from emotional cravings entangled in years of what society throws at us. My concern is that missed cues can lead to more missed cues, and that can lead to an increase in potentially dangerous behaviors. That's a lot of pressure on anyone. Learn to trust yourself, but also rely on sheer rational thought. The two work well together.

People like to claim that all children eat intuitively. They don't, or at least many of them don't. Parents unintentionally teach their kids to ignore their signs of hunger and often use food in some sort of a reward and punishment program, withholding food for bad behavior and offering goodies in exchange for good behavior. Even from a young age, kids are manipulated by a media that attempts to shape their food cravings. Commercials for sweets and fast food target youngsters. Big companies like McDonald's know how to direct content toward kids as young as four years old, and it's estimated that these kids see well over 200 of that particular corporation's ads each year.

I never ate intuitively when I was young, ever. Like many others, I was an emotional eater from a very young age. I was like one of those abandoned stray dogs that finally comes upon food and eats and eats and eats with no "I'm full" alarm alerting me to stop. As far back as I can remember, I had an intense hunger, at least I perceived it as hunger, that I couldn't seem to satisfy, and I never felt truly full. Obviously, I'm not suggesting that kids can't be wise about what they need, but reading hunger cues doesn't necessarily mean a child or adult will always eat the right foods in order to get adequate nutrition.

When not targeting young children, the media is busy promoting some fantasy or miracle plan for your diet and weight-related goals. On the one hand, we are encouraged to look a certain way, yet we are bombarded with images of decadent food and the false idea that we can eat whatever we want whenever we want and be thin. Oprah boasts about eating BREAD and PASTA every day while supposedly losing weight, like carbohydrates are some sort of taboo fare that only the very thin are allowed, and people suddenly think Weight Watchers has the answers to all their dietary needs. False.

People should be able to eat bread and pasta whenever they want. It's healthy to eat what your body craves, absolutely, but you also have to be aware that your body needs a wide variety of different nutrients, from protein, fats, and carbohydrates to vitamins and minerals. That's why having some loose guidelines without strict rules is better than diving into a complete free-for-all. Your size shouldn't really matter, but how your body and your brain operate depend a lot on what you put into it. A good dietitian will help you create a plan that focuses on foods you love and nutrient-dense foods that you might consider adding to your diet to increase overall health. Sometimes this kind of plan really does include bread and pasta on a daily bases. Ture.

I learned the hard way that eating sweets all the time caused me to crave more and more simple sugars, but when I ate a more reasonably sized daily dessert as part of a healthier meal plan, those terribly intense, out-of-control cravings faded. But that's my story. It doesn't have to be yours.

I love the idea of really listening to your cravings and honoring your hunger. I just think that it becomes complicated quickly to always rely on internal cues. It's a good goal to have, but there is no one definitive cue for hunger. People experience being hungry in a variety of ways, and one person can have varying internal cues. Some days, my body signals are clear and obvious, and other days, I have a hard time determining what I'm feeling. If I relied only on internal hints, I'm pretty sure I would miss some of them while navigating this crazy and often stressful reality called life. Sometimes I just have to look objectively at my diet and eat because I know I need to, not because an alarm inside has alerted me.

I'm the type that sees nothing wrong with having ice cream for breakfast or nachos for dinner now and then. I think emotional eating for comfort during horribly stressful times is not the worst thing on Earth, as long as you are aware and don't beat yourself up afterward. Obviously, learning healthy coping skills is better than turning to any kind of truly unhealthy behavior, but I don't see occasional comfort eating as anything abnormal. Those of us who have struggled in the past are so quick to judge ourselves harshly; the last thing we need is more pressure to eat a certain way. My suggestion remains the same that people should use what works for them. If there's no problem, don't fix it, but also don't assume that everyone else should follow the way you eat because it works for you.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Stories

For whatever reason, my dip into the depression pool this spring is deeper and longer-lasting than in previous years. It doesn't help that my endometriosis symptoms have flared up and I'm still dealing with daily pain in my hips and feet. Managing pain on a daily basis is exhausting. Since I know myself well and know where the edge at the bank of the hellish black pit is, I'm not sitting back and doing nothing while waiting for my mood to improve this time. Sometimes riding out the downs on this rollercoaster is a reasonable choice; other times, it's not. It takes a lot for me to reach out, but I have, stubbornness be damned, for now. No, there's nothing anyone outside of the medical community can do. Depression is depression. I know how to keep myself relatively safe. I've been dealing with it since I was a child. Some months are just more challenging than others. Not turning to disordered eating during times like this is challenging, but I'm doing well in not swinging to any extremes.

When it comes to helping others, I often wonder what's most beneficial to those who are struggling with an eating disorder and want to get well. I don't believe there's one right answer. There are many groups that go about helping by simply sharing stories. I never found this approach helpful in terms of actual recovery, but it can be for some. It can also help people feel less alone, which is a step in the right direction. Oddly, when I joined a recovery group in college, I felt it kept me stuck in the disorder. The ladies in the group were so focused on their symptoms and stuck in their stories that nothing else was ever presented. Week after week, the same people would tell the same stories and go into the gory details, almost more to shock others than to offer any assistance. I find that a dialog is more beneficial, but everyone has his or her preference.

The longer I'm in recovery, the more I realize that if people are going to be more compassionate and accepting, it's society that needs to change. We live in a world that doesn't allow people to stray from the norm without being severely punished. This is especially true for women. We can't be too big, but we are also condemned if we swing too far in the opposite direction. At either end, we are called weak, failures, self-indulgent, or any number of other derogatory terms. Women have to walk an incredibly narrow path in order to be accepted, and we're all so obsessively aware of these fixed rules. Women mock themselves and others for having an appetite or being on a diet. People think it's acceptable, funny even, to suggest that all women feel fat, hate their bodies, or want to be thin. It's not. If you participate in this kind of rhetoric, you are so much a part of the problem.

It's unfortunate that we can't see the deeper issues behind being too big or too small and what "too" really means in each case. Who defines that point that goes beyond health, physical, emotional, and mental? How is the stereotype of "normal" identified? Who sets the parameters of how a body, someone else's body, should be? One out of many problems with the way our culture affects women's decisions around aesthetics is that those who fall even slightly outside of what's acceptable to the majority are pushed to the side more than those who walk the narrow line when both should matter and should be heard equally. The voice of someone who's considered too fat or too thin by an arbitrary and quite often absurd cultural standard still needs to be acknowledged, maybe even more so than those who fall in line and accept the status quo.

At my age, I never thought I would be dealing with anyone making unkind comments to me. Though it's not the same situation and unrelated to my weight, this kind of occurrence puts me right back into being the fat little girl who was relentlessly teased and bullied. I don't want anyone to ever have to experience the kind of torment I did or other people do for whatever reason. My childhood experiences left me afraid of confrontation, awkward around people, and uncomfortable in my own skin, no matter what my weight. As a society, we really, really need to stop focusing so intently on what others look like and appreciate more who they are and what they do.

Success really isn't a number on a scale, and you don't have to be a superhero to be successful. Another problem with society is the way it views achievements. The fear of mediocrity can keep anyone stuck or backsliding. What's so wrong with admiring people who participate in the daily grind, who get up day after day, go to work, keep their shit together and are generally decent people? The public is very greedy, needy, and self-centered. It's no wonder there are so many people who turn to eating disorders and addictions to cope. I wish I knew how to heal our very broken society.






Monday, March 5, 2018

A Little Compassion, Eh?

Last week was eating disorder awareness week. I noticed both positive and not so beneficial messages on social media throughout the event. As an eating disorder recovery advocate -- not an eating disorder advocate, a term I saw a few times and questioned -- I find myself looking closely at how others talk about recovery or about eating disorders in general.

It might seem like I'm straddling the fence on some of the issues I'm attempting to address, but these matters are complex. When it comes to the different types of illness and the different movements emerging, I can see the various viewpoints and the concerns of each. What worries me is the increasing lack of compassion with which people are voicing their ideas. I understand the outrage. Hell, how many times have I angrily hit the keys as I typed a blog post about people on Instagram promoting disordered behavior under the guise of healthy living? I keep looking inside to see where this anger is coming from, and while I know I want desperately to protect the world from the damaging shit that's out there, and there's just so much shit, I'm also willing to look at the possibility that the anger might go deeper than that.

Here's the thing; I will never know what it's like to navigate the world in your body with your mind, and you will never truly know my struggles. That being said, I'm not going to discount what you're going through simply because I haven't experienced your life first hand, which is exactly what some people, people I usually respect and admire, seem to be doing. Those of us who are advocates generally speak from the heart about where we are and where we have been. It's not always going to be all-inclusive, but it doesn't mean we are ignoring the reality of others.

I don't know the details about what went down between Geneen Roth and several other recovery advocates, but I assume this had something to do with diet culture, the assumption that Geneen wasn't using the "right" terminology when addressing weight. I saw a few posts from several different people indirectly addressing Geneen and wondered why, if these people were so offended, they didn't confront Geneen directly. I fully support HAES and the Body Positive Movement. What I don't support are those who try to tear down others who have been instrumental in helping people recover from life-threatening eating disorders, people, like me, who might be dead had they not read one of Geneen's books. For me, reading what she went through, even though she didn't have the same illness I did, gave me the tiny bit of hope I needed to keep going. Even if her language isn't perfect (and whose is?) she doesn't deserve to be attacked.

I love Geneen Roth's reply to one of the individuals who attempted to vilify her:


I’ve heard (thank you, those of you who have let me know) that someone who calls herself an emotional eating expert is posting aggressively unkind Facebook ads about my work and that they are popping up on your pages.
I’m sorry to hear this and would like to take a moment to respond, not to her particularly, but to the notion that tearing someone else down will build us up. That being mean and aggressive is a winning strategy.
We’ve all tried that one. We’ve all blamed and fought and, from a lost or lonely or desperate place inside, cut other people to shreds. Or at least, I have. And when I wasn’t doing it explicitly, I was thinking about doing it. Blame was one of my favorite strategies and make no mistake: tearing someone else down is a way to blame. It’s a way not to take responsibility for our own feelings, our own decisions, our own actions.

It’s challenging not to go to war, either with ourselves or with someone else. It’s challenging to notice when the voice in our heads takes over and says, “War is the only option. Being unkind is the way to go. It’s my turn and I deserve to win, no matter the cost."

Everything—and this situation is no exception—is a chance to question where we stand.

Do I feel personally attacked? No.

Do I feel the need to write to her and call her out? No. (See below about taking action.)

Do I notice that the tactic she is using is familiar to me and that I’ve done it many times myself? Absolutely.

Can I find the place inside me that wants to go to war with myself? Fight with the parts of myself I think would be better vanquished? (That’s the war part. "Let’s destroy what we don’t agree with and what will be left will be only the good parts." How many times have I done that, starting with "let me lose weight and what will be left will be a happy, relaxed, thin person").

At least a million times…

Which doesn’t mean I don’t take action or speak up for myself. I do. Often. Although in this case, many people have already contacted Facebook about the aggressiveness. Also, the ad has not popped up on my page and I would need to be served the ad in order to report it.
The bottom line is that in any situation, I look and see what action I can take and if it feels in integrity, I take it.
And all along, I keep questioning what in me gets triggered and reactive, turning towards those feelings with as much kindness as I can muster. And I keep strengthening my resolve to untangle what’s left of the web of self-loathing and blame because the less and less I do it to and in myself, the less I do it with anyone around me.
It's working. Sanity and clarity are constant companions these days.


I'm a straight, white woman. The only thing missing for me to be the ideal typical stereotype of an anorexic is my youth. I'm older now, so I no longer fit the stereotype. I'm also in recovery, but you get my point. Whatever your eating disorder, it's as painful, as potentially deadly, and as difficult to address as mine. It might even be harder in many ways if it means that you are also experiencing prejudice and discrimination. I fully understand that and want to help raise awareness around these issues and change the way society views anyone with an eating disorder, no matter what his or her size. What I wish others would understand is that talking about what I experienced is in no way meant to put my needs above anyone else's. I don't see anorexia as some kind of top illness to discuss at the expense of other disorders, and I know that straight, white women aren't the only ones struggling with eating issues. Eating disorders affect all genders, all races, and all ages.

I used to think we were all in the same boat, that anyone who could relate to the suffering associated with an eating disorder would show compassion toward others battling their own illnesses. The way social media is, people constantly spouting this or that belief or thought without any filters, I can understand why people feel vulnerable. I thought anyone who had lived through an eating disorder or witnessed someone else wrestling their demons would show complete compassion and understanding toward others. Instead, what I see is a lot of anger and resentment directed at an entire group of people, exactly what most recovery advocates claim to rebuke. I see that and a lot of shameless self-promotion. Self-promotion isn't necessarily a bad thing, but when it comes at the expense of the actual cause, I take issue.

The big thing now is to post about anger being a great motivator, which can be true in one way, but it's an energy that burns out quickly. I ran in anger for a while. I was fierce and determined, but I was far more successful when I came at it from a place of forgiveness and love. This is a hard topic to address because I don't want to make it seem like I don't understand the hurt and frustration of living in a fucked up society that shuns people based entirely on how they look. It's more that I want to point out that trashing someone else isn't as effective as simply stating your argument.

People talk about Roxane Gay having a sharp tongue, but her memoir "Hunger" is one of the most poetic, moving, honest, and thought-provoking memoirs I have ever read. Her tongue isn't really all that sharp; she's just more direct and truthful than most. At no point does she feel the need to unnecessarily tear anyone down, even those who nearly destroyed her, but she has no problem defending herself with her words. In her memoir, she simply shares her story, but this is a book that absolutely has the potential to change the way society looks at anyone struggling with an eating disorder or disordered eating or even anyone who's different. I highly, highly recommend everyone read it.

Several times recently in my real life, not on social media, people have responded to me in unkind ways. I'm sensitive to this kind of behavior and don't react well to it. I tend to shut down. I will never quite understand when someone continually takes little or not so small digs at someone else or goes out of his or her way to make an inconsiderate comment. People tell me the problem lies with the one who chooses to be unpleasant, but it's hard to not take mean-spirited or judgmental attacks personally, even if I assume the issue really isn't me. I sometimes wish I could respond, "You, sir, may fuck off!" (Crime in Sports reference), but that's only because it would make me laugh, not because I aim to be as nasty back.

I guess all this rambling I've stumbled through is a long-winded way of saying, "Have a little compassion, eh?" 



Saturday, March 3, 2018

Binge Eating

Recently, I was part of a panel giving a talk on eating disorders. The event was open to the public, so we got a nice mix of adults and children in attendance. Things went well overall, but some of the questions during the Q & A segment were a challenge to answer. This isn't because we didn't have the knowledge to answer but more because we are all products of our society and there are deeply fixed beliefs around eating disorders. It's incredibly difficult for anyone, struggling or not, to move away from the mindset that food is not the main issue when it comes to eating disorders.

Of all the illnesses we addressed, binge eating was the most challenging. Finally, there seems to be a better understanding around anorexia, that you can't simply force someone to eat. Unfortunately, with binge eating, people, even loved ones, are more likely to try to control the binge eater.

At one point during the evening, I brought up one of Geneen Roth's books in which she describes a child who kept gaining weight and whose mother was worried about her daughter's health. Geneen told the mother to give the child a pillowcase full of the girl's favorite snack food, which was M&Ms. Initially, the girl carried the pillowcase everywhere and ate as she pleased. She gained some weight in the process. When the mother kept reassuring her child that she was still loved and trusted, the child eventually began consuming fewer candies and leaving the pillowcase behind. I'm pretty sure some of the people in the audience were assuming two of us on the panel were suggesting that they give their kids unlimited amounts of candy. That wasn't the point of the story, and it's not something I would actually suggest. The story does illustrate a point, though.

What the story offers is a way to find out what the food represents to the child. Some believe taking the problem food(s) away is the answer, and others believe providing it in abundance is key. In the case of the girl in Geneen's book, the M&Ms represented trust and love, especially the mother's love. That's the underlying issue, but with binge eating, those close to the one struggling are desperate to find a way to fix the symptoms and fix them quickly. Nobody wants to see their child suffer, and the fear is that anyone who binges won't fit into the ideal beauty standard, the one that's unrealistic to begin with and generally unhealthy. There are also health concerns, like with any illness. We're all looking for that the magic pill, and parents can end up wanting to limit what their child eats. They want desperately to protect their child from experiencing ridicule and potential bullying if she ends up different.

I believe this kind of thinking, wanting to control someone who binges, is, in part, because of the way society looks at anyone who doesn't fit the "thin is beautiful" false narrative that's ingrained in our society. There's also the recognition that anyone, no matter what her actual size, who eats in secret, eats large quantities of food, or sneaks food probably experiences much guilt and shame, possibly for even eating at all and taking up space. You can imagine how being called out for these behaviors must feel to a child. As a society, we really need to remove the shame and guilt around our struggles.

Binge eating, any disordered eating actually, is never about willpower or self-control or a lack thereof. I can guarantee that anyone struggling with an eating disorder is tough. We have to be just to make it through the day sometimes. While I may not have the specific answers for each individual, I can assure anyone reading that the more the focus is on the food and trying to control it, the more progress will stall and backslide. In the last few years, there have been therapists who have spoken out, cautioning that a focus on the symptoms will only make matters worse. Their suggestion is to avoid all talk about food and weight and, instead, address the underlying issues. If the issues haven't been brought to the surface or are unidentified, focus on general likes and dislikes, look at identity, and practice goal-setting (related to life, not food) and saying positive mantras.

It's not an easy path for either the one suffering or the parents and loved ones. I often suggest that the family get therapy or support separately from the one struggling. Don't give up hope, though. As difficult as a supporting role can be, it's an essential one in terms of recovery. People with eating disorders need advocates. They need guidance and love, and they need reminders that they are worthy, no matter what kind of illness they have.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Fuck Weight Watchers


Tabitha Farrar recently wrote an insightful blog post about Weight Watchers and the potential harmful effects that can result when dieting starts at a young age. This was in response to Weight Watchers' announcement offering free memberships to teens. Obviously, this company isn't considering the potential harm introducing dieting behavior at a young age can cause, so let me make one thing very clear: Weight Watchers doesn't give a fuck about you. It's a predatory agency that wants to target the vulnerable. I feel like I should insert George Carlin's "The American Dream" here. Big businesses don't give a fuck about you. They don't give a fuck about me, and they want to control where you put your money. They want your money, period. This new idea to lure kids into a weight loss program is called a recruitment plan, which implies that those running the business are looking for people to jump in early and stay for the long haul, not briefly test the waters.

I have addressed the business aspect before in a blog post focusing on Oprah Winfrey. Weight Watchers is a huge corporation owned by H. J. Heinz Company with branches all over the world, a corporation that wants people to believe it has the key to your happiness. The company's survival and the way it makes money is by supporting unrealistic beauty aesthetics, promoting diet culture, and pushing their "magic formula" of success for a price. Remember, if you fail at losing weight, it's because you're not following their program. The idea is that if you just buy their products, pay for their secret systems and plans, and keep coming back, you gotta KEEP COMING BACK (that's why it's great to start 'em young), you can be thin, which translates to happy, healthy, successful, perfect, and beautiful. But it's a fucking lie. Whatever Weight Watcher's is selling is not much better than snake oil.


Why do you think commercials for weight loss products and systems are strategically aired late at night and more heavily after the holidays? Again, weight-loss companies target what they view as vulnerable audiences, and now they are after your kids. 


If you take a look at their products, filled with excess sugar, artificial ingredients, and almost no actual valuable nutrition, you will see that the ingredients do not support health or weight loss for that matter. No sensible diet plan is based on the consumption of highly processed foods containing a lot of refined sugars and almost no quality protein. Look at the statistics on weight loss and dieting and ask yourself if the unspecified "studies" Weight Watchers often cites are credible and accurate. Does a short-term study focusing on adults who lost a tiny bit more weight on a diet plan than those who did absolutely nothing really mean that this company has the answers? Did these people in the so-called study keep the weight off for an extended period of time? Were they truly healthier, happier, and better off?


A healthy relationship with food can be taught, but it doesn’t include obsessively “watching” weight. It includes a focus shift away from beauty aesthetics and toward Heath and feeling good while trusting your body, not trying to have absolute control over it. Teaching people how to discipline themselves and restrict what they eat, stopping at one serving even if the body needs more, is diet behavior, not mindfulness and not intuitive eating, and these behaviors don't encourage health, physical or mental. 


I believe the founder of Weight Watchers, Jean Nidetch, had good intentions when she started her small support group in her apartment. Since she had success on the diet she created for herself, she wanted to share that with others. However, the focus was entirely on weight loss, how to stop eating cookies and slim down. I'm sure some of the advice the organization gives now is sensible, but there's no doubt that this is a business with a primary focus on aesthetics and making money. Though some claim Weight Watchers is an advocate for health, what it promotes and sells is the fantasy of looking a certain way and losing weight, and don't those who own stock in the company know that EVERYONE wants to lose weight?

Yeah, fuck that, Weight Watchers.


Saturday, January 27, 2018

Eating Disorder Recovery Handbook (9)

Resources:

International suicide helpline:

http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html

National (U.S.) suicide hotline:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255  http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Organizations:

NEDA National Eating Disorder Association; 1-800-931-2237 https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org

ANAD national Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders; (847) 831-3438, http://www.anad.org

NABA National Anorexia & Bulimia Association; (402) 371-0722;  http://www.nabassociation.org

Eating-Disorder.com; (866)-575-8179. Connects people with the appropriate treatment centers.

F.E.A.S.T. Families Empowered and Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders  http://www.feast-ed.org/

Books:

Lize Brittin:

Training on Empty

Geneen Roth:

How to Break Free from Compulsive Eating

Feeding the Hungry Heart

When Food is Love

Peggy Claude-Pierre:

The Secret Language of Eating Disorders

Linda Rector Page, N.D., Ph.D.

Healthy Healing

Websites:

https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/

http://www.edreferral.com/

http://mentalhelp.net/poc/center_index.php?id=46

www.anred.com

Other types of therapy:

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) - A type of psychotherapy that can be used to help people become more aware and accepting of their emotions and life experiences. It is designed to help individuals identify and develop a healthy relationship between their thoughts, emotions and their intellect. This can help reduce anxiety and help treat depression.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) -  A form of therapy that teaches individuals to identify and address negative thought patterns and core beliefs that contribute to these negative patterns. This type of psychotherapy teaches the skills needed to find healthy ways to cope with life situations.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) - This type of therapy combines both cognitive and behavioral methods of treatment as a way to help cope with painful emotions or memories. It relies on mindfulness and emotional regulation and is especially useful in circumstances in which there is conflict. This type of therapy is often beneficial to those who tend to react to stressful situations in extreme ways.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) -  EMDR is a type of therapy that aids in alleviating the symptoms and emotional distress associated with traumatic life experiences. It is thought to help the brain process past events more effectively and more quickly than talk therapy. During an EMDR session, the therapist will direct an individual to remember emotionally disturbing material in short sequential doses while simultaneously engaging in directed lateral eye movements and sometimes additional external stimuli as well. This is thought to help clients activate their own natural healing process.

Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy (ERP) - This type of psychotherapy is designed to help individuals acknowledge and overcome specific fears and anxiety.  A person is gradually exposed to the feared object or situation with the idea that this will eventually have a desensitizing effect. It can also be used to help cope with an eventually overcome both fears and certain urges.

Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) - This type of therapy often helps improve body image and self-esteem. The main focus of IPT is addressing underlying personal problems, such as unresolved grief and role disputes. The therapy is designed to help people learn how to cope with stress and anxiety related to these issues.

# # #

A special thanks to the following women for their ideas on recovery listed below: Jennifer Crain, Eva Johnson, Lisa Schrump, Erinn Kathleen, Samantha Anne, Caroline Roggenbuck, Diane Israel, Kathleen Ensor and those who chose to remain anonymous.

Suggestion basket:

Whenever possible, have a friend or family member nearby to eat meals with, so that someone can help you be accountable. Have a pre-planned meal plan that includes a lot of variety and options that you can follow each day.

Treat yourself as you would treat others. When facing negative thoughts or anxiety, keep yourself distracted and engaged in things unrelated to food and the eating disorder.

Working the 12 steps helped me take responsibility and stop blaming others. Also, listing three good things every day helps keep my overall outlook positive.

Choose the next best action.

Recovery takes time and hard work. Be patient with yourself.

It takes time for the mind to catch up with the body. Heal your body, and your mind will also heal in time. Also, anticipate some discomfort in recovery.

Think of recovery like climbing a mountain. You will encounter hard, rocky sections that are so difficult, you feel like you want to give up, but if you keep going, you will reach beautiful stretches that are easy to maneuver. These sections are rewarding after struggling to get there. Know that you can keep going in the end.

What was a game changer for me was taking responsibility for changing my choices. It empowered me and gave me the ability to change, even if it sometimes felt uncomfortable. I also received coaching, and that has helped my development and helped me sustain recovery.

Cultivate compassion for yourself and self-love. Work on being aware.

Learn to trust. Know that food is not the enemy. It will allow you to heal. I had to get the right nutrition before I could work on the techniques in therapy that ultimately helped me recover.

Glossary:

Acid reflux -  Acid reflux is the flow of stomach acid back up into the esophagus, the tube that connects the stomach and the upper throat. Gastroesophageal reflux disease is a more severe form of acid reflux.

Anorexia nervosa - A life-threatening eating disorder characterized by weight loss or abnormally low weight, distorted body image, restricted food intake, fear of gaining weight, and obsessions with weight, food and body.

Art therapy - A model of psychotherapy involving the encouragement of free self-expression through art used in order to encourage self-awareness, reduce stress, manage addictive behaviors and improve self-esteem.

Bloating - An abnormal full feeling and often a distention of the abdominal area usually caused by gas in the intestines, eating too quickly or overeating.

Bulimia - A dangerous eating disorder characterized by eating, usually large quantities of food, and then purging either by vomiting or by other means such as exercise or the use of laxatives.

Digestive enzymes - Proteins that catalyze reactions between other chemicals and ultimately help with the breakdown of food during the digestive process.

Connectivity - (Brain connectivity) A pattern of anatomical links and interactions between distinct units within a nervous system by way of neurons and synaptic connections.

Constipation - Infrequent or difficult to pass bowel movements that may also be hard and dry.

Coping mechanism (or coping strategy) - An action taken or conscious effort applied in order to reduce or better tolerate stress and conflict.

Core beliefs  - The main beliefs that generally arise from childhood experiences, personal disposition, cultural or societal influence and are assumed to be true for the person who holds them. They are the essence of how an individual sees himself.

E.D. or ED - Abbreviation for eating disorder.

Feelings chart - A chart, often with images, that helps identify various feelings and helps assist anyone struggling to identify what he is feeling.

Identity - A mental concept of how an individual views herself, including her self-image, individuality, core beliefs and self-esteem.

Inner child - The metaphorical child within each human being that represents the neglected, hurt or needy child of the past. In theory, an adult can provide her own inner child the comfort, attention and care she lacked as a child.

Long-term goal -  The ambition of a person for a future result, a goal that takes planning and time in order to accomplish.

Mantra - A word, sound or phrase that’s repeated frequently in order to aid in focusing attention and concentration in meditation and also one that helps express or change a person’s basic beliefs.

Nausea - A sick feeling often accompanied by the urge to vomit.

Plasticity - Neural plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to change and form new connections and pathways at any age.

Perfectionism -  A disposition that pushes a person to strive, often unrealistically, toward goals without allowing for anything short of the ideal. Failing to reach the often unattainable result often leaves a perfectionist feeling worthless.

Refeeding syndrome -  The potentially life-threatening metabolic and clinical changes that occur when a severely undernourished individual is rehabilitated at a rate at which the body can’t adapt. Those who are at the greatest risk of developing refeeding syndromes include anorexics, chronic alcoholics, and those with marasmus, chronic malnutrition or kwashiorkor.

Relapse - A decline in an individual’s state of health or mental health after a period of improvement.

Self-care -  Self-provision and self-maintenance without outside assistance. In recovery, self-care goes one step further in not only making sure basic needs are met but also addressing all needs, emotional and physical.

Short-term goals - The ambition of a person for a desired result in the near future, a goal that takes relatively little planning or time in order to accomplish.

Trigger - A trigger is an event, situation or anything that causes a reaction or response usually related to a memory or past trauma. It can be similar to a flashback that transports a person back to a traumatic past event. Triggers can cause a person to engage in harmful or addictive behaviors in an attempt to reduce the pain and stress around the memories that arise.

Visualization - A cognitive technique used to reduce stress, improve performance and focus attention on specific objects and events. Visualization can include using mental imagery to recreate experience, imagine a specific outcome or direct attention away from specific thoughts or situations.

“Yay scale” - A bathroom scale decorated in such a way as to remove any numbers and to foster positive feelings.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Eating Disorder Recovery Handbook (8)

Family and Friends

“You need a really solid foundation of friends and family to keep you where you need to be.” -- Lilly Singh

Addressing family issues can be difficult. If at all possible, look into family-based therapy. Make sure that everyone is getting their needs met. As painful as it can be, sometimes people need to take a break from each other or create strong boundaries in order to maintain their optimal health. Try not to take someone needing space personally. Those who can be there for you will be, and if that’s not possible for some, it’s OK. Make sure you are getting the support you need from others in that case.

If you are a parent, a friend or a relative of someone who is suffering from an eating disorder, make sure you are also getting the support you need. It can be too easy to focus on the one struggling, but everyone needs support. In addition to the NEDA website, F.E.A.S.T. also has suggestions for those who are supporting others with eating disorders: http://www.feast-ed.org/ 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Eating Disorder Recovery Handbook (7)

Taking Action

“Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.” -- Joel A. Barker

So often when it comes to thinking about recovery and change, it’s easy to say or think, “I can’t.” What would it take to change that to “I can” or “I will”? What is it that holds you back from being where you want to be in your recovery? Is it fear? What is the worst thing that can happen if you choose a different path today? Is it a realistic fear? Keep exploring what it is that holds you back.

There's a saying in AA that goes something like: First it gets easier, then it gets harder. After that it gets really hard. Then it gets easier again, and then you start to live. How can you start living? What kind of activity can you engage in that will help your recovery? What is one thing you can do today to support your recovery?

Some guideposts:

Honesty is crucial when it comes to recovery. You must be honest with yourself and with others. Write out a list of ways in which you hide or don’t tell the truth about behaviors or anything related to your eating disorder. In a separate column, write out your truths, things you know are true and would like to share with someone, if not today, one day. Remember, there is no shame in admitting your struggles. Everyone has had them, and it’s important to open up about them.

You don’t have to be great to be successful. We put so much pressure on people and on ourselves to be the best, to be number one. Instead, be unique. Be you. That’s more important. You can do great things when you are healthy, but start by first taking care of yourself and simply being and being OK with that.

Find your identity.  You are not your disorder. In my own case, rather than focus on what I was eating or how much I was exercising, I eventually had to turn my attention inward and ask myself what my passions were. I needed to rediscover what I liked and disliked, what my beliefs were and what stirred my emotions. In doing this, I started to better understand how I could move away from the labels that had bound me for so many years. I had to fight the negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones, too. My mantra became, "I am OK and everything will be OK," because I had so many fears and old beliefs running through my mind keeping me from believing that things would ever be even close to OK, let alone good.

Eventually things were good, beautiful at times, but recovery doesn’t mean perfection or perpetual happiness. It means you get to participate in the world again and be alive, really living and engaged in life.

Find, and rediscover, your passions. We all have them, and they can become so buried in our sickness that we either forget how important they once were or discount the idea that we can ever reclaim them.

Write out and describe your likes and your dislikes that are unrelated to the disorder. Reclaim yourself and your identity apart from the disorder. Think about what movies you like, what books move you and what music resonates with you. Explore what it is about a piece of literature, a movie or a song that makes you like or dislike each. Get to know who you are away from anything related to your eating disorder.

Develop personal mantras. What are your mantras? Find some positive affirmations, however pithy, that encourage and inspire you. Write them out and put them around your home, so that you see them often. Come up with positive mantras to use to counter any negative thoughts that enter your mind, even if it’s just thinking, or perhaps saying out loud, “STOP!” An exercise that can help with reconnecting with who you are and finding your identity is describing yourself in a positive way. What are the characteristics, the features and also the things you do that you are proud of or that you like? Are you kind, compassionate, intense or passionate? What do you like to do for fun? What features do you like on your body? What do you do or what would you like to do for a living? Write all of these out and keep adding to your description.

Explore your own recovery. Create your own path, one that is unique and works for you. Write down your goals. Describe your life in recovery and how you want it to be. When you have a picture in your mind of what you would like your recovery to include, you can begin to take steps to get there.

Join a support group or a recovery forum. Some benefits you get from a group is that you can participate in role playing activities. Sometimes just knowing there are others who have gone through similar situations is helpful. Mostly, though, sharing your thoughts and your struggles can be freeing. It can help you better understand your own illness and how to go about healing from it, and it removes some of the shame we often feel when we think we are alone in our struggles.

Become a mentor or find a recovery buddy. Set an example for others and guide them or give back in some way. You don’t have to be 100 percent cured to offer help to someone else in need. You matter. Say to yourself, “I matter.” Practice self-love and self-care by acknowledging how strong you are for having come this far. Always give yourself credit for surviving and getting through another day.

A relapse is not failure. This is vital. If you experience a relapse, look at what happened to get you there and look at how you can get back on track as quickly as possible. Ask yourself what was going on before things went awry and if you were under more stress or if you were feeling overwhelmed. Identify what your triggers are and find ways to move forward. Forgive yourself; this is essential. Get the help and support you need, but keep moving forward. Try to see a setback as learning experience, not an excuse to go backward.

It can be reassuring to know that you have the tools you need in order to recover or recover from a relapse. A bad day or a bad week does not mean you are back in the illness completely. You are always one small move away from getting back on track. No matter how hard it seems, you have the strength to do one thing to support your recovery, even if it means calling a friend or a helpline. You are stronger than you may realize.

If I could give only one piece of advice to anyone struggling with an eating disorder, it would be to hold on to the belief that a full recovery is possible. You may not know what that looks like, but the more you can imagine how you want your life to be, the more you can strive to make it happen.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Eating Disorder Recovery Handbook (6)

Recovery

“I got tired of waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel, so I lit that bitch up myself.” -- Anonymous

A lot of information regarding eating disorders exists online and in general, but not all of it is accurate. Be careful to look into research claims and any information that lacks explicit scientific backing. Bloggers might have good intentions, but not all of them are qualified to give advice about eating disorders and especially about recovery. Use your discretion. Mostly, when it comes to advice, use what works for you and discard the rest. When in doubt, check with a professional, your doctor or your therapist, to make sure anything you try is safe.

It can be difficult to say goodbye to an illness or addiction when, as in the case of eating disorders, it serves as a coping strategy. If, however, you are getting the security you need in a healthy way, it becomes easier. The safer you feel, the easier it will be to let go of the disorder.

Some ways to achieve this include:

Write a letter to your illness. Acknowledge how it served you, and then say goodbye to it. Observe how saying goodbye makes you feel.

Be as present and aware as you can in life. There’s a strong correlation between your thoughts and your speech and how you feel. The more you can switch your focus away from food, calories and exercise, the more you can allow yourself to be in the moment, and this is a way to temporarily forget your disorder. Aim to avoid triggering statements such as "I feel fat" and instead try to uncover what this symptom means. Often, this translates into feeling uncomfortable. Dig for the cause of the symptom rather than focusing on the symptom itself, and then seek out solutions in healthy ways.

Listen to your body. Do what’s sensible, and allow your body its voice. Watch how you talk to yourself and to others. Listen carefully to others who love you and choose your words carefully. When you judge others harshly, also take a look at what is going on for you. Sometimes when we feel uncomfortable with ourselves, we tend to project our own issues onto others.

Be patient with your own mind. Over time, the thoughts that seem so oppressive will start to abate and move to the background. Before long, you will begin to notice that these thoughts will completely disappear for short periods. Soon, the periods of time without the distorted thoughts will stretch into longer and longer segments until you can be more focused on living and less obsessed with what you are eating, how much you are exercising or how your body looks.

Challenge your core beliefs and fears. Keep exploring what rules you create for yourself and why. You set the rules, and you can change them. Some people who have overcome eating disorders explain that they think of their illness like a game in which they create rules by which they force themselves to abide, and, since this is the case for them, they have the power to change or relax the rules. This is your life. You are strong enough to create your own destiny.

I read of one young lady with an eating disorder whose observant mother noted that she slowly began to bend her own rules during her recovery. At first, she wouldn’t allow herself to eat outside of her planned meals, but she slowly began to allow herself a little bit extra, a taste of her favorite dish or an extra-thin slice of cake. These “extras” didn’t count for her. A few extra bites weren’t enough to break her rules, only bend them until she could get to the point where she wasn’t unnecessarily constricted by these rules, and could break them, change them or even get rid of them. Start with small steps if a giant leap is too scary at first.

Be grateful of where you are and what you have learned thus far. Keep a gratitude jar and fill it up monthly, weekly or even daily with events or anything for which you are grateful, as little or a big as it may be. Write it on a slip of paper and place it in your gratitude jar. Whenever you feel you need some encouragement, take out the slips of paper and read them.

Eating Disorder Recovery Handbook (5)

Healing

“At any given moment, you have the power to say, ‘This is not how my story is going to end.’” -- Christine Mason Miller

As you begin to heal physically with improved nourishment, you can begin work on overcoming your disorder more fully. Eating disorders are called illnesses for a reason; though classified as mental disorders, they have biological, as well as psychological, features.

Heal the past, and when you are ready, forgive yourself and others. Do this for yourself. Sometimes merely acknowledging what you went through and how difficult it was to endure is enough to begin healing from past traumas. And trauma can be different for everyone. What might seem like no big deal to one person can be incredibly upsetting to another. Processing the situation, healing from the damage and moving forward will make you feel more at ease in general. Express your pain regarding what happened in the past, and let it go. Then, do what you can to focus on the present.

Strategies always available to you include:

Be kind to yourself and to others. As much as possible, observe without judgment. This includes observing the thoughts and feelings you experience, especially those that come up before and after you eat. Ask yourself if the thoughts you have, especially those about yourself, are accurate.

Surround yourself with, and seek out, positive and healthy people. Are there people you admire who lead healthy and well-rounded lives? Who are your role models and who do you look to as an example of a positive role model? Look for role models who are accepting and who embody strength, courage and wisdom.

Notice and care for the child within you. Though you can’t go back and change the past, you can provide yourself some comfort and heal from the pain of past events. This includes making sure you are getting the attention, love and care you need now. You can give this to yourself in the form of self-care, or you can ask for help and encouragement from others.

Visualize the future, your future. Imagine yourself healthy and fully able and capable. Jot down a few of your life and long-term goals. Choose these goals over looking a certain way or staying stuck in the disorder. Any time you feel yourself struggling, remind yourself where you want to be. Accept where you are, but keep working on your short- and long-term goals.

Be gentle with yourself. Navigating feelings and learning how to process them can involve bumps in the emotional road. There isn’t a specific set of steps to take in order to go through an emotional experience. The main thing is to make sure you are expressing yourself in a healthy way and allowing your feelings to come to the surface. Though it might feel like your sadness or anger will last forever, do as Diane Israel suggests and look at these feelings like you would fluctuations in the weather. A bad storm rolls in, but it eventually passes. It’s a temporary situation. You can’t control it, but you can control your reactions. You will get through it. Write, scream or cry into a pillow, sing, dance, talk to friends, and do whatever it takes to make sure you are dealing with your emotions safely.

When I read about Jenni Schaefer and her book Life Without Ed, I was concerned that she advised people to compartmentalize their thoughts, as if they belonged to a separate entity, in this case “Ed.” I strongly believe that our eating disorders are very much a part of ourselves -- something we create and must take ownership of, not something to necessarily fight against; a set of actions and circumstances to understand and from which to learn.

There are times when it feels as if choosing to recover means fighting the urge to harm yourself. This is true, but healing comes from going deeper and addressing the underlying issues, not blaming “Ed” without delving into the whys. The technique of externalization, and using “Ed” (or some other name) to address your disorder, does help to identify the negative thoughts, though, and I fully support that aspect. If it works for you -- whatever works for you, in fact -- then use it.

When you are struggling, it can be difficult to determine whether a given thought is healthy. I don’t see anything wrong with labeling a thought “Ed” or any name you like, but, again, I would suggest taking this one step further: Look at why this thought is coming up, and determine how you can address or even counter it in a healthy, positive way. Try writing the thought down first. In a separate column, write out possible reasons why you think this thought arose when it did. Finally, in a third column, see if you can write something positive that opposes or disproves the negative thought.